How junk food ads mislead with health pitch

Last year, FSSAI released a draft policy on front-of-pack labels to alert consumers on high levels of sugar, salt and fat in packaged food.
Last year, FSSAI released a draft policy on front-of-pack labels to alert consumers on high levels of sugar, salt and fat in packaged food.


Brands often use celebrities to push ultra-processed food. Experts say celebrities endorse such products despite law prohibiting misleading ads.

In a recent ad, a top actor asks hassled mothers to give kids a pack of biscuits which, he asserts, has the power of milk and atta. The ad has hit a raw nerve, with experts seeking a stop to celebrities endorsing such food. Mint explores the regulatory landscape around junk food.

What is the issue over the biscuit advt?

In a recent advertisement, Bollywood superstar Amitabh Bachchan is seen telling mothers why they should not lose sleep over a child’s meal. Give them a packet of biscuit (of a popular brand) which has power of ‘atta (whole wheat)’ and a glass of milk, he says. The Nutrition Advocacy in Public Interest (NAPi) said the commercial is ‘deceptive.’ The milk in packaged biscuits is ‘sweetened condensed partly skimmed milk and milk solids’ and the flour is ‘refined wheat flour’ or maida—a poor substitute for healthy home cooked meals. Besides, such products far exceed sugar, salt and fat thresholds.

Is the latest biscuit ad a one-off case?

Brands often use celebrities to push ultra-processed food like biscuits, chips or fruit drinks to children. Experts say celebrities often endorse such products despite the Food Safety Standards Acts, 2006, and Consumers Protection Act, 2019, prohibiting misleading ads and those falsely describing a product or concealing information. According to NAPi, food companies regularly use strategies which undermine parents’ confidence to give their children the best nutrition. This often leads to poor eating choices, leading to childhood obesity and non-communicable diseases (like diabetes) later in life.

You might also like 

What's cooking at Swiggy and Zomato?

Budget likely to correct inverted duty structure

Govt to ensure law digital competition law doesn't over-regulate

Why regulate ultra-processed food?

Research shows that energy-dense ultra-processed foods are designed to be addictive, which makes consumers eat more and gain weight. A health ministry survey found that one in 10 school-going children were pre-diabetic, while one in 20 had hypertension. Another study found that 95% of packaged food items exceed the thresholds for either salt, sugar or fat.

What regulations are in place in India?

Other than laws prohibiting misleading advertisements, last year, India’s food safety regulator FSSAI released a draft policy on front-of-pack labels to alert consumers on high levels of sugar, salt and fat in packaged food. After it is notified as a law, the industry will have four years to comply—an extended timeline. Experts say that the proposal to place health star ratings on packets will confuse consumers—they have asked for warning labels which are more effective in pushing consumers to reduce consumption of junk food.

Do laws regulate marketing to children?

India has no laws to regulate marketing of ultra-processed food to children, except a ban on sale of junk food in and around schools. But several countries do. South Korea prohibits advertising of unhealthy foods on TV during evening hours and on all child programmes. Mexico and Chile prohibit TV ads during certain hours. UK, Ireland and Chile also restrict promotion of junk food by celebrities and sports icons. However, research shows that food companies constantly innovate to bypass these regulations.

Elsewhere in Mint

In Opinion, Vivek Kaul unpacks the puzzle of why financial bubbles keep coming back. Niranjan Rajadhyaksha spots some complex policy challenges for next fiscal year. Beth Kowitt says American companies are now wary of joining culture wars. Long Story exposes the rift that runs down the ethanol economy.

Catch all the Business News, Market News, Breaking News Events and Latest News Updates on Live Mint. Download The Mint News App to get Daily Market Updates.



Switch to the Mint app for fast and personalized news - Get App